It is a classroom that is never quiet. Students get up from their seats to obtain supplies, ask each other questions, and look for guidance on the internet. They question, collaborate, cooperate, and create. They identify problems and build solutions. Even during the periods when there are no classes scheduled, students from other classes appear in the doorway in need of various supplies for projects, their faces alight with excitement and their voices eager. This is the R-MA Middle School Innovation Lab.
The lab is the result of the work of many hands, including former R-MA Middle School Principal Derrick Leasure, current Principal Tony Ballard, Craig Campesi of the Technology Department, and Middle School teacher and Innovation Lab keeper Stephanie Wagner, whose enthusiasm is contagious.
The lab is full of various objects that engage the students: Ozobots, Little Bits, Spheroballs, iPads, Lego robots, and 3D printers, just to name a few. As Wagner describes her innovative classroom and its many components, a student wanders in to borrow clay and camera for a “Claymation” production, and before long an entire World History class joins her as they prepare to build chariots out of unusual objects. “They’re not allowed to use the wheels from Legos,” Wagner explains. “Some of them are building the chariots out of popsicle sticks and CDs.”
Wagner explains that the Innovation Lab environment is built on the idea of “constructivism.” “When you make it with your hands, you will remember it forever,” Wagner says. “These students will always remember that Greece and Rome had chariots.”
In addition to providing a place for other teachers to think “outside the box” and assign projects that are more than just poster board presentations, Wagner is teaching a Robotics class and two computer science classes that will become “Makers” classes for the spring semester. Her philosophy of continuous change and engagement for all is evident as she describes how she changes the groups around in the Robotics class every other week. “With different groups, students are given different jobs, and it helps get the quiet, reserved kids engaged,” she explains. For the computer science classes, the students are focusing on coding—and she found a way to challenge them early on, when she had the students create submissions for the Congressional App Challenge.
With a Lego wall, a robotic dog named Chip, TinkerCad programs, and dozens of other avenues for creativity and innovation, R-MA Middle School students are more engaged in their education than ever.